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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     77
reigned; but it was enough for the wily old man to cast
into this turmoil of angry women's voices some practical
suggestion concerning their collective-farm affairs, such
as: "Isn't it time somebody went to the old village to
see whether the ground has thawed?" or: "There's a
nice breeze blowing now. Perhaps we ought to air the
seed. It has grown moist from the damp earth in the
underground barn," for the quarrelling to die down
at once.
One day Grandad came into the dugout looking pleased
and yet troubled. He brought with him a green blade of
grass. He laid it gently in his calloused palm and showed
it to Alexei.
"Look at this," he said, "I've just come from the fields.
The ground is thawing, and, thank God, the winter crop
is showing. There's been plenty of snow. Even if we
don't get the spring crop in, the winter crop will provide
us with bread. I'll go and call the women. It will gladden
their hearts, poor things!"
Outside the dugout the women chattered like a frock
of magpies; the blade of green grass brought from the
fields gave them fresh hope. In the evening Grandad
Mikhail came in rubbing his hands and said:
"What do you think my long-haired cabinet of ministers
have decided, Alexei? Not a bad thing, I tell you. One
team is to plough the patch in the hollow, where the going
is heavy. They will harness the cows. Not that you can
do much with them. We've only got six left out of the
whole herd. The second team will take the higher field,
that's drier. They'll dig with spades and mattocks. We
dig our vegetable plots that way, don't we? The third
team will go up on the hill. It's sandy soil there; we'll
prepare it for potatoes. That's easy work. We'll put the
youngsters on that job, and the weaker women. And
before long we'll get help from the government. But
even if we don't, we shall manage. We'll do it ourselves,
and we won't let any of the land go waste, I can assure
you of that. Thanks to our men for kicking the fascists
out of here; we'll be able to live now. We are a tough
race and can stand any thing, no matter how difficult!"
Grandad could not fall asleep for a long time. He
twisted and turned on his straw bed, coughed, scratched